Monday, 12 April 2021

So Quiet!

It is a very beautiful frozen world here this morning. We are still getting occasional snow flurries, and last night's low temperature left a very thick, furry frost on everything. There's not a breath of wind, and the bright sky is almost completely clear. It is so quiet! I love Skye like this.

But our peace is soon to be shattered. I can almost hear the engines warming-up. The world is buzzing with people who are longing to get away from the lock-down locations they have been enduring for months. And where better to come than the stunning Scottish Highlands, where fresh clean air is all the air we breathe, and the virus seems such a long way away?

Skye is a very special place. The hills, sea, cliffs, mountains and lochs, the light, the dark, the rain, the sun and the silence. Everything combines in a wonderful kaleidoscope of nature that so strongly appeals to the human soul - it is no wonder that people want to come here to experience Skye for themselves.

At first, virus rules dictate that only visitors from other parts of Scotland will be welcomed here. But soon after, travellers from all of the UK will be arriving in their cars and camper vans. There is no question that all the tourism-related businesses will be pleased to get back to earning a living. But I do so hope that the rapid influx of thousands of visitors will not mean the virus will be flooding back with them.

And I'll miss the quiet.

(Photos by Sue)

Sunday, 11 April 2021

A Thank You To 'Down Under'

 I have just received the delightful surprise of a late birthday card. The surprise is even more special because the card has come some 11,500 miles from New Zealand from someone I have never met or even spoken to.

A hand-written note in the card thanks me and Sue for this blog, and for our photographs.

So firstly - a BIG thank you for reading our blog and your positive comments, and secondly, and even BIGGER thank you for your kind thoughts and my birthday card!

We return warmest wishes to you with our love.

Richard and Sue

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Out Of The Darkness...

It's that time of year again when we whirl the hands of our clocks round an hour, and believe that summer has arrived. Altering the dial on our man-made time-measuring devices doesn't actually change anything else of course, but it makes us feel differently, when our clocks tell us it is seven o'clock in the evening and the sun is still high. On a personal level - it would be nice if we could tweak the weather in the same way, and dial-up a few weeks of mild, dry days so I can get the allotment in order before the dark days of lockdown are lightened.

If the vaccine and virus control measures are judged by our government to have been effective, it will only be a matter of a couple of weeks before UK-based travellers begin to flock back to Skye. There is no doubt that numerous small businesses here will welcome the new influx of visitors with wide open arms, but I know that with some sadness I will immediately miss the silence and peace that has flooded the island for much of the past year. I have to admit, though, that even I will be pleased to see our long-empty cottages once again occupied by excited explorers.

But is this not short-sighted gratification? Are we really coming out of the darkness? Very few parts of the world have had effective vaccination programmes, and by far the majority of the world population remains vulnerable to the virus. Unless international travel is totally banned - which is surely not going to happen - I can only see a future where new strains of the virus develop and re-infect the population of parts of the planet where we had felt we had won the battle.

I suspect the much talked about 'new normal' will have to become our way of life for the foreseeable future. The need for frequent booster vaccinations is already on the cards. Will we for-ever be wearing face masks in crowded public places? Will I ever again feel comfortable to queue for a drink in a busy bar, or sit in a packed cinema for a couple of hours to watch a film? 'New normal' is going to take some getting used to.

But enough of today's pessimism and woe. Look! The rain showers are passing, sun is shining, and spring flowers are blooming. There is a expression of hope on smiling faces we see on the TV news. People are booking holidays. I myself have made arrangements to soon travel south again to see much-missed family and friends. The days ahead are surely looking brighter.

Monday, 22 March 2021


Richard celebrated a very BIG birthday recently - so some celebrations were in order.
Owing to his BMW requiring some essential maintenance in Inverness 
and some jobs needing to be done at our holiday cottage in Strathpeffer
we popped over to 'The Old Bakery' just before the Big Day.
Whilst there we took advantage of the amazing weather and had a few 'walkies' !

Above Richard and Cupar taking a breather en route to Knockfarrell near Strathpeffer.
The photo below is taken from the top - with those amazing far reaching views!!

Other 'walkies' included a stroll along a deserted beach in Ardersier 
and ambling through woodland around Black Rock Gorge....

Above a solitary sailor out at sea on another glorious day.... we were SO lucky with the weather!

The woodland at Black Rock Gorge showing the torrent below!
This place was amazingly beautiful - like being in a wildlife 'cathedral'
with intermittant birdsong and Mother Nature wearing her Spring gowns 
- pierced by rays of sunshine through the tall magnificent trees 
at regular intervals... At times it was quite breathtaking.....

Richard 'taking a moment' by the river.

Sunlight dapples the forest - intensifying the colours plus the variety of plantlife 
and trees.

Richard and Cupar pause for a moment taking in the 
experience of this 'floodlit' landscape.
We could not have wished for a better day.....
for Richard's 'Three Score and Ten' .

A super shot above of my 'lovely family'.....!

Finally, a friendly neighbour at Strathpeffer had previously offered Richard 
the ends and wood for the bench shown above.  
The opportunity was gladly received by both of us as we had fully intended 
putting seating up on the paved area of The Old Bakery's wee garden anyway.   
It didn't take long for Richard to put it together and then for both of us to be sitting up there 
enjoying a well earned break with a coffee afterwards!   


Thursday, 18 March 2021

Threescore And Ten

 I recall asking my wonderful mother when I was a small child, how long would I live? Her answer has always stayed with me. She told me no-one can ever tell how long we will live, and then, although she was not a regular church-goer or reader of the Bible, she quoted from Psalm 90, verse 10, which starts: 'The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years'.

Today is my 70th birthday - so I've successfully reached the first target. Hopefully I have the strength to continue to the second, and maybe further still....? 

So, is this a time for reflection, or for looking forward? Perhaps a bit of both. 

Seventy years is a long stretch to look back on. Inevitably, within my life, there have been some sensationally good times as well as a few times that were woefully bad. Without doubt - the good outnumber the bad, but with the benefit of age and experience, I do recall some events in my life that I should have managed better. I don't doubt that every reader of this blog could say the same about their own lives. However, overall, I don't feel I have made too bad-a job of the gift of life I was given. I would like to think that I have lived-up to the expectations my father had of me when I was born, and I would like to hope that he would be proud of me now.

A teeny regret could be that I haven't really made any mark on the world. I am not an especially ambitious person. Maybe I could have done more. However, there will be a few dusty Art GCSE and A-level certificates in the back of files around the country, where the owner might recall 'Mr Dorrell helped me to get that', and I know that my work over the years with numerous special needs pupils and their parents was appreciated at the time - but from my work life, I have left no legacy.

I gain pleasure from taking photographs and from writing. Currently I have some 11,000 photographs published on the Geographical/Historical website, Geograph, and I continue to add more quite frequently - find me here

Also - I have written down my life story, which I have published as a website. It was a most cathartic exercise to write, and finding and electronically saving so many old family photographs was extraordinarily satisfying. Just occasionally as the years pass, I plan to add a paragraph or two by way of updates, though on the whole, this blog tells the tale of my life since we have lived on Skye. My life story website is here.

As to the future? Who can say? Who would ever have guessed, almost exactly one year ago, that a world-wide pandemic was about to affect us all so dramatically? All we can do for our future is care for our planet and for the people around us, look after our own health and well-being, and do our best to make the most of the ever-shortening time we have.

I promise I'll write another birthday post, and refer back to this one, when I reach fourscore years!

With my Wonderful Mum, June 1951

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Something For The Future

The seeds for the 2021 allotment have arrived by post at Roskhill.  I will for ever marvel at the magic of nature than turns the tiny contents of these packets into huge, strong plants, providing us with healthy fresh vegetables for months on end. (I also have seed potatoes and onion sets, but they are too shy to be included in this photo...)

I will endeavour to post updates on the progress of these seeds in future posts.

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Is There Anybody There...?

We are used to Skye being quiet in winter. The holiday traffic here is seasonal, and from October to March, there is only ever a thin scattering of visitors on the island, as the majority of accommodation providers gladly close their doors and have a rest. For the most part though, the eating places and shops stay open throughout the year, and are well-patronised by the locals.

However, during the virus lockdowns, 'quiet' has taken on a new completely meaning. All accommodation is obliged to be closed, as are all the hotels, restaurants, cafes and nearly all the shops. Virtually the only traffic is an occasional builder's truck or courier van. It is a novelty to see a human.

I had to make a trip to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness last week (for just a routine check-up). It didn't really occur to me before the trip that the roads would be so deserted. I arrived for my appointment nearly an hour too early. The hospital was strangely quiet, too - lots of staff about, but not many patients in evidence. I ventured on from Inverness to have a walk in the nearby seaside town of Nairn. In spite of the day being bright with blue sky, the promenade and seafront gardens were almost deserted. There were just a few children playing in a playpark - no home schooling for them, then. I stayed the night at our cottage - The Old Bakery - in silent Strathpeffer before making another lonely drive back to Skye.

I have thought about how I feel about the quietness, and I remain uncertain. I hate to see all the closed doors, the dark shops and empty town streets, and I do not like to have our own cottages standing cold and empty when normally they would be busy with excited holidaymakers, eager to explore our beautiful landscape. But the peace and lack of traffic is something I know I will miss when restrictions are eased and a more usual level of life begins to return to the Highlands.

(Footnote: I borrowed the title to this post from the first line of a wonderful poem, 'The Listeners', by Walter de la Mare,  Do have a read of the poem - find it here ).

Central Beach, Nairn - spot the crowds

The Links and Wallace Bandstand, Nairn
Is there anybody there...?

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Busy Doing Nothing

There has become a recurring theme in the emails I receive from friends and family, and in those I write... The same problem faces me as I sit down to compose another blog post. 

We are living through a coronavirus lockdown. There's nothing to write about !

I suppose I could have a moan about the somewhat challenging weather that this winter is presenting to us. The recent intense cold snap has seen the Roskhill River freeze over for only the second time since we moved here in 2008. Last night, one of the (admittedly somewhat exposed) Skye weather stations recorded a highest wind gust of 84mph. From my window, beyond the shivering sedge on the moor, I can see huge plumes of spray round the cliffs where monster waves are crashing in from the Atlantic.

But the weather here is often extreme, and I have written about it many times before.

Maybe the local birds are worth a mention. We keep stocked, simple peanut and fat-ball feeders in the garden, which regularly attract a reasonable variety of common garden birds. Currently, we have more than the usual number of blackbirds, with often as many as four males chasing each other round the lawn, while Mrs B (an especially large and feisty female) keeps guard under the feeders, seldom letting any other ground-feeding bird more than a fleeting visit for any crumbs that have fallen from the fat-balls above. 

Yesterday, I happened to be gazing out of the window while chatting on the phone, and a single snipe pottered out from under the bushes and began probing around into the mossy lawn. The bird gradually made its way to the edge of the lawn, completely ignored by Mrs B and the cock blackbirds, to where a row of well established pines provide a bit of a windbreak. The grass is longer and unkempt there, and the snipe spent a good twenty minutes contentedly probing about, presumably finding something good that snipe like to eat. 

And lockdown doesn't mean 'locked-up'. We still get out and about. Dog-owners don't get the luxury of choosing not to venture outside when the wind is howling or the river is all ice. We wouldn't choose to stay cooped up indoors anyway. We are thankful that we live in a place where we do not have to consciously avoid close contact with other humans - it is quite rare to see another human here. But every day we can enjoy the landscape and the sky, and never tire of its beauty. And for now,  like everyone else, we will wait, remain patient, read our books, puzzle over our jigsaws and vacuum the carpets yet again.

I will share below a couple of Sue's recent photos.

From the garden

Loch Dunvegan

Super Cupar

Saturday, 30 January 2021

Silent Night

Once again, I sit at my desk at Roskhill, looking out on a dark, still and silent landscape as the fading light from the already set sun once again paints the sky in impossibly beautiful streaks of yellow, orange and blue.

The first strange month of 2021 has almost ended. Government-imposed coronavirus rules and restrictions have meant that throughout the entire month, we have been almost no-where, met almost no-one, done what feels like, almost nothing. 

It is such an alien feeling. Humanity here is almost at a standstill while we wait for science to save us from any further spread of this so infectious of diseases.

We are told that another whole month, and maybe more, will have to pass before anything much - for human life here in Britain - may change.

But the sun will keep on rising and setting. Time continues inexorably. Snowdrops are already in flower by the garden shed, and spring's yellow bounty of bright bobbing daffodils are busy thrusting their leaves through the almost frozen soil. Next will come the bluebells. 

Planet Earth will not stop turning, and every new dawn brings us a little closer to our hopes for the human future - to meet the friends we miss, to hug the ones we love.

But for now - it's another silent night on Skye.

Friday, 22 January 2021

Winter Skye

 I imagine that winter affects the landscape and the people, plants and other animals within it, in much the same way in every remote region within the UK. You don't have to be on Skye to experience boggy ground, stark, dead vegetation, or buffeting winds, or the seemingly incessant need to don an extra fleece and waterproof clothing for every foray outside of the cosy comfort of your home between the end of August and the beginning of June. (Actually, on Skye, you may need the waterproofs and extra layer all year round...)

However, Skye does have a trick or two which I reckon places our location a notch or two above most others.

Trick number one - The half-hour weather-reversal. One minute - storm clouds, howling winds, driving rain... Thirty minutes later, blue sky, calm and dry. Of course - it can also reverse the other way round.

Trick number two - Rain here, dry there. 'Here' and 'there' may only be a couple of miles apart. 'Here' can have rain all day, while 'there' remains dry all day. Same applies between November and April if you replace the word 'rain' with 'snow'.

Trick number three - All the weather at once. It is not at all unusual to be getting soaked in a rain shower while the sun continues to shine brightly. The bonus here is a dazzling rainbow.

Trick number four - Weather? What weather...? Skye can put up such an astonishing range of cloud formations you are so busy looking at them, you don't notice the weather at all.

Winter Skye? Yes please.

The photos below are a teeny sample of the winter pics I have taken from and around Roskhill over the years. I promise - they are all reproduced here exactly as the camera saw them. 

(On a PC - clicking on any photo will open a full-screen gallery).

Friday, 1 January 2021

Do You Believe In Omens?

Exactly one year ago, almost to the minute, I wrote a blog post describing my first dog walkies of the new decade. I think it was the most eerie morning sunrise I have ever experienced. The post is here: 

First Light 2020

We all know only too well how the year panned out.

This morning, 1st January 2021, Cupar and I walked the same route as on the last 1st January. Today, everything was absolutely normal. To the west, a nearly full waning moon lit-up a pale blue sky, casting a creamy white light on the tops of the few puffy clouds. To the east, the slowly rising sun was beginning to edge the horizon with orange, while straggly grey clouds hung overhead, and a cold northerly breeze blew over the silent moor.

Nothing was weird or strange. All was calm. Now, a couple of hours later, I sit at my desk with the sun up, the sky now bright, and the reeds quivering gently in the field beyond our garden wall. My thoughts are to the overworked doctors, nurses and professionals who must be so exhausted of coping with the demands of their jobs during the long, weeks and months that the world has been suffering the coronavirus pandemic. My thoughts also to the thousands of families who have lost loved ones to the terrible disease. 

Let us hope that the peaceful, normal dawn of 2021 is a good omen, and heralds the dawn of real hope that we will all soon be through this most demanding and challenging period of our lives, and we can soon begin to return to living as we have lived in the past, allowed again to visit much-missed friends and family, and - perhaps most important of all - giving them all a big, warm hug.

Let us hope for a happy New Year.